Robert Sawatzky
Oct 10, 2023

What Southeast Asia’s best video ads are telling us

Seven lessons learned from judging the region’s best long and short video ads for the YouTube Works SEA Awards unveiling in Jakarta this week.

What Southeast Asia’s best video ads are telling us

As journalists, it’s rare for us to get a peek inside the jury rooms at advertising award shows. As much as we’d like to witness all the impressions, persuasive debate and swings of opinions that come with evaluating the work, it’s not an experience we’re afforded very often. So, when an opportunity came to join the inaugural YouTube Works SEA Awards jury, with such a strong cast of industry judges from brands and agencies no less, the decision was easy. 

True, Campaign Asia-Pacific already sees arguably as much work from across the region as anyone, but this, nonetheless, provided the chance to look much deeper at the new work being done inside Southeast Asia’s diverse markets. 

The depth and breadth of work across the region is astounding. We saw sweeping long-form dramas from the likes of BCA in Indonesia during Ramadan and U Mobile in Malaysia for lunar new year. From gut-busting brand awareness comedies in Thailand, to impressive ecommerce performance campaigns in Vietnam to slick music videos from the Philippines, the bar continues to rise for campaigns that can really move the needle in so many markets.  

The work and case studies were interesting enough on their own, but what struck this observer were seven key trends that emerged (note that the examples cited here do not have any bearing on the ultimate award wins).  

Music matters

In the world of video shorts, music have been dubbed as the jingles of the modern age, but are probably even far more critical now. It’s something Campaign has looked at in-depth, but it’s not until you watch dozens of shorts back-to-back that you see how essential music is to grab and hold attention throughout a pre-roll or mid-roll video ad. The vast majority of all campaigns were driven by catchy tunes, whether it be for Ong Tho condensed milk or Bivina beer in Vietnam, RC Cola in the Philippines or McDonald’s nuggets and burgers in Malaysia. Even financial institutions rely on repetitive music-driven prompts to elicit behaviours through banking apps. The better the earworm, the stickier the ad.  

Brands really care about GenZ

If you don’t belong to GenZ, many brands and the agencies that produce their adverts simply don’t care about you. It sounds harsh, but after rolling through dozens upon dozens of the best ads throughout the region, only a very select few did not have a case study outlining the campaign to target and engage the GenZ audience. Whether it was cola in Vietnam, yogurt or biscuits in Thailand, shopping and mobile services in Philippines—you name it, it was all being pitched to GenZ with methodical engagement strategies. This, despite the fact that YouTube is a major destination for all age groups to connect or reconnect with the content that most appeals to them. Ironically, the rare campaign that did target GenX was a financial anti-fraud campaign which did so because the generation was deemed the least digitally-savvy and most likely to get scammed online.   

No need to go into a rant about how brands that ignore older generations with the most cash to spend do so at their peril, since we all know why it’s important for brands to resonate with consumers early. But aside from the few products targeting young moms, even millennials show up surprisingly sparingly in the campaign strategy outlines.  

Many of the briefs that specifically looked for GenZ insights, however, ultimately have universal appeal. It may be true that younger generations value individuality, equate finance with freedom and want home furnishing that reflect their aspirations. Fortunately for brands, so do millennials, GenXers and others. Generational values aren’t static, but evolve with time. 

K-culture still sells

We’ve explored in Campaign whether using K-pop celebrities might equate to lazy marketing, but there’s no denying the commercial power of K-culture as both cultural icons and Korean-themed products and messages hit the market. Tiger Beer featuring K-pop star G-Dragon to sell its soju-infused lager is a direct example, but other brands like P&G’s Rejoice shampoo in Vietnam can simply leverage Korean drama phrases to help introduce new products like their ‘Jeju Rose’ shampoo. Others, like Sunsilk shampoo in Malaysia, prefer to tap into K-pop fandom as a way to reach their target audience. Even the very youngest audiences are being introduced to K-culture early, like this gaming platform selling popular Korean kids games online. It’s clear the K-train shows no signs of slowing down throughout the region.  

Diverse, non-traditional heroes are emerging more widely

While celebrities still sell, it’s also clear that more campaigns are celebrating a more diverse range of non-traditional heroes. We see brands like Listerine in Thailand and Colgate in Malaysia giving the spotlight to those with cleft palates or facial differences. Female supermodels with long flowing locks are being replaced in shampoo commercials by real people, including full-figured cantankerous male anti-heroes in the case of Pantene in Indonesia (below). Retailers like Robinson Department Stores in Thailand use everyday people with personal agendas and selfish desires to drive traffic to their stores. 

Yes, there are still nods to community values, respect and self-sacrifice for society, but this includes those previously alienated, like unemployed workers turned entrepreneurs and drag queens fighting for their families, such as we see in GCash ads in the Philippines. Individuality, difference and self-deprecation are being recognised and applauded.  

Effectiveness is a moving target

Juries usually have the benefit of case study results to determine just how effective ad campaigns really are. We now have more data than ever before on campaigns. Consider all of the following acronyms encountered in the results section of these awards:


How many do you recognise? Some of these are commonly used. But at least half of them admittedly had to be looked up by this author.  

Determining success is no longer as straightforward as looking at the sales sheet. Brands now have much more specific campaign objectives, from stealing share of market and voice, to prompting specific actions like downloads, to attention and recall for wider brand awareness, to lowering marketing costs, to purchase consideration within specific demographics. It's easy to get caught up in the big numbers like total views, but it’s sometimes better to build successful cases around the few data figures that matter, so as not to obscure the objective.  

Use tools and technology effectively, so consumers don’t have to

Many of the campaigns which did reach their specific intended results did so by using the available tools in hand. Not only did many successful campaigns deliver targeted messages in different format lengths, from six second teasers to immersive films, but they also used platform-specific technology and formats to get them there. In the case of YouTube, this meant using different awareness formats from mastheads to both skippable or non-skippable ads and different video reach campaigns including in stream and in-feed. Video action campaigns that brought in product feeds together with Performance Max campaigns could drive product sales. 

It’s important to note that while many marketers love their technology tools, most consumers will have no idea of what’s being used behind the scenes. And many prefer to keep it that way. Complex campaigns that require online and offline participation, gathering codes, points and solving puzzles can be too much work for too little reward and lose people along the way. When you look at the participation and completion rates on some of these campaigns that try to overengineer ‘engagement’ they can end up with some pretty low numbers and defeat their very purpose.   

Amazing creative is still king or queen

You can use the best tools and technologies and develop complex multi-prong strategies that boost your campaign’s effectiveness. But ultimately, the most successful campaigns will come down to powerful creative ideas and their execution. The campaigns that resonated most were the ones too interesting not to watch all the way through. They either entertained us in a new and delightful way, made us laugh out loud, elicited tears, taught us something we didn’t know or dug up hidden truths we could relate to. The most creative campaigns were inevitably the most memorable, allowing us to share special moments with the brands that so badly want to connect with us.  

The YouTube Works SEA Awards are being announced in Jakarta on October 12, 2023.

Campaign Asia

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